Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas
Icosahedron sculpture

Rob Vischer on Educating for a Life of Purpose

Universities are becoming more transactional, more focused on providing necessary job skills as efficiently as possible. Efficiency is important. Preparing our students for professional success is important.

President Rob Vischer in Aquinas Hall
President Rob Vischer

But I think one reason we have such stellar employment outcomes at St. Thomas is because we care about a lot more than employment outcomes. If we only view college as an economic transaction, we’re failing to meet the needs of our young people. We’re telling them that the best you can hope for in this world is to be employed; you don’t need to spend time or energy understanding history, developing a love of art or literature, honing your leadership skills, experiencing the joy of scientific discovery, appreciating the wonders of nature, reading the great thinkers, or grappling with the meaning of life.

And you definitely don’t need to spend time or energy figuring out how it all fits together, exploring whether diverse domains of knowledge have any relationship to one another. Instead, just pick a silo that aligns with the career track you’ve chosen. Check the box, get a job, no more questions.

Survey after survey show that increasing numbers of our young people are not experiencing a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. If higher education’s response goes no deeper than job skills, we are failing them.

We are called to engage our students in a conversation that is inescapably about values. At St. Thomas, we seek to cultivate three values in particular that were championed by our namesake, Thomas Aquinas: truth, goodness, and beauty. Each of those values is reflected in the Schoenecker Center, which is the subject of this summer issue of St. Thomas magazine.

Beauty is at the heart of our mission and is essential to human flourishing. One reason the arts are so central to Catholic tradition is because we perceive truth and goodness through our senses and imagination, not just as rational propositions. So the beauty of the building, including the beauty of the art and performance spaces within its walls, is a powerful affirmation of our mission.

The pursuit of truth will happen within those walls without constraint or preordained conclusions. The labs and classrooms will be the venue for discoveries that reveal the truth of the natural world – truth that is not contingent on feelings, truth that reflects the world as it is.

And goodness, for Aquinas, meant the good that arises when an object or a person is utilized for its intended purpose.

We are called to engage our students in a conversation that is inescapably about values."

President Rob Vischer

By bringing the STEM fields together with the arts in one majestic building, by facilitating the integration of knowledge from diverse fields, we have created a venue where our students will be empowered to go beyond silos and explore the world in all its wonderful dimensions. This becomes the canvas against which they discover their vocation – i.e., how their gifts, values, and life experiences can meet the needs around them.

Viewed from the outside, the Schoenecker Center is breathtaking. But the real inspiration comes from what happens inside: equipping future generations of Tommies to lead lives of purpose.

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